Greek Style Pasta with Lamb and Bechamel

Santa Cruz do Rio Pardo Click here to view recipe.

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http://humanesmarts.org/grow-harvest-create-2/ Years and years and years ago (my memory fails me here, but probably 40 years ago?) I took a cooking class here in Seattle at Mr. J’s Kitchen Gourmet (may she rest in peace) and learned to make Greek Pastitsio.  I have searched high and low, and probably in one of my moves I tossed the recipe.  

All the cooking gurus I like or follow have their own version.  There was a simple recipe in my tiny Greek cookbook, and Ina, Martha, all the gang have their renditions.  Nothing looked exactly right to me, so I got the urge to make this in the cold, dark winter and just went with it.  I know, that might make some of you uncomfortable but I am in my “happy place” when I can improvise.

Greek Pasticcio traditionally has a substantial layer of tubular pasta, a deep simmered delicious beef ragu and is topped off with a thick and velvety béchamel sauce.  So mine is not traditional and I wouldn’t label it Pasticcio because mine is far from the mark, but the flavors in my dish are amazing in my opinion.  I combined the cooked penne with the meat sauce (I used ground lamb because I do not eat beef) and topped the whole thing with béchamel sauce that wasn’t as thick a layer as most.  Nonetheless, I am very happy with my results.

I ended up making a double recipe of this and browned the meat and onions outside in my electric skillet to keep the fumes out of the house and the spattering and mess happens outside, not in my kitchen.  This recipe is not hard to make but it does involve lots of pots and pans and bowls. And it takes time to prepare each part (boil the pasta, make the meat sauce and make the béchamel) and then assemble the final dish. But people … SO worth it.

I gave a hefty portion to each of my in town families and kept a smaller amount for their parents (me and my husband).  We served ours with a greek salad and some cut up fruit and ate leftovers for a couple of days. I had rave reviews from the adults, teenagers and babies alike!

Greek Style Pasta with Lamb and Bechamel

Serves 8-10

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Main Dish Ingredients
  • 1 lb dried penne pasta
  • 2 pounds of ground lamb
  • 2 cups diced brown onions
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • ½ cup red wine (I just used leftover wine)
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2 cups water (option to add 1 tsp beef Better Than Bouillon optional – I like the additional salty flavor hit) 
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
Béchamel Sauce Ingredients
  • 6 Tbsp salted butter
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk (warmed so it is like baby formula)
  • 2 pinches cayenne pepper
  • ¾ cup grated high quality parmesan/reggiano cheese
Instructions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with the rack in the center. 

NOODLES:

Boil a large pot of salted water and cook the penne about a minute less than the package directions.  Drain in a large colander and dump into a large bowl. 

MEAT SAUCE:

In a large straight sided fry pan, cook the ground lamb, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it is no longer pink, about six minutes.  Add the onions and garlic and cook for another five minutes, stirring once or twice.  Drain this mixture into the same colander in which you cooked the pasta.

Return the drained lamb/onion mixture to the saute pan.  Add the wine and cook until most of the liquid is gone.  Add hot water mixed with Better Than Bouillon if using that, and tomato paste, cinnamon, nutmeg and oregano.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until it is thick, about 15-20 minutes.  Season with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

FOR THE BECHAMEL TOPPING: 

In a medium sized saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Whisk in flour and let it cook for a couple of minutes whisking constantly.  Slowly pour in the milk a little at a time, whisking so it mixes well with the flour/butter.  Cook until mixture thickens and bubbles, about six minutes.  Stir in cayenne and grated cheese.  Set aside.

TO ASSEMBLE:

Combine cooked penne and meat sauce and mix well.  Place in the bottom of an oiled 9 x 13 inch ceramic dish  Pour the béchamel sauce on top and even it out with a knife.  Bake until lightly browned in spots, about 35 minutes.  

Remove from the oven and let it cool for 15 minutes before serving.

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